So, the kitchen’s clean. I finished the last of the residual dishes this morning. The purpose of a clean kitchen is, of course, to make it as dirty as possible, in a short amount of time. So when I came home tonight, I got to work on that.
We had some shrimp, and so I peeled ‘em and set to cooking my world famous “Shrimp ‘n Stuff.” The “stuff” often enough is kind of thrown together at the last second. Here’s an example:
Shrimp cooking away: salt, pepper, chili powder, curry powder, olive oil, butter, something from a tube marked “herb for fish.”
Beginnings of a first draft. Scallions and cherry tomatoes. On closer inspection the tomatoes look a little weird.
I’ve got a slightly better idea what I want to do here. Half a red onion. The tomatoes are back in the fridge.
Hey! We’ve got some wine. That’ll be good. Hey! We have garlic. Sure, why not?
Deglazing the pan, and adding garlic and onions. Ideas are still not fully formed.
Lemon vinegar. Remember, and this is important: never measure anything. Now wait around for a few minutes until everything’s boiled off.
Add scallions for garnish. End product, surprisingly edible. Actually a lot better than that. The onions tasted like they were pickled, not a bad thing. I can’t take credit for the rice, which tied everything together.
Spoilers for ME 3, obvs.
[In the last installment we examined the Star Child (the Catalyst), and what he might signify within the game.]
V Shepard’s Choice
Returning to the endgame, Shepard must make her final choice. The boy’s new function (as embodiment of the catalyst) is to explain the relative moral value of the three possible endings. As noted above, these options are to either destroy the reapers, control them, or to synthesize organic and synthetic life. IT holds that the only correct option is to destroy the reapers, as this represents Shepard’s final rejection of their control. The other two endings, if one agrees with IT, actually benefit the reapers’ designs, as they involve Shepard’s destruction.
Much has been made of the color scheme related to the three choices as well. Destroy is red; red, too, within the framework of the game also means “renegade,” for when Shepard says or does things that are more blunt, selfish, or even violent. Yet, as the Catalyst explains the situation to Shepard, we see Anderson—presumably Shepard is imagining this—shooting the power coupling. Wasn’t Anderson supposed to represent Shepard’s good side? IT holds that yes, he is. Similarly, we see the illusive man taking the blue (control the reapers) choice. Again, blue seems to correlate with the “paragron” option, which the Illusive Man clearly does not represent. Why, then, IT wants to know, are the paragon and renegade options reversed? Their answer is that the Catalyst is trying to trick Shepard into picking the wrong option; the debunkers point out that this isn’t the case: red simply represents destruction in a more obvious fashion, while blue represents the restoration of order. All the same, both the blue and the green endings appear to benefit the reapers, given that in both cases Shepard is killed.
One of the first people to advance a version of IT, the author of the blog Uninhibited and Unrepentant, points out an interesting change in the musical cues. “Listen to the musical change” they write, “The ‘control’ option is sinister with a quiet humming dissidence [sic.]. And the ‘destroy’ option rings brightly, a pleasant sound of uplifting hope and then fades away. It’s barely noticeable, broken by the jarring drumming sound, and it’s only at the beginning. But it’s there.” [Edit 6/22/2012: CleverNoob has actually shown that this isn't true; the music is simply on a loop, and it appears to be coincidence that the positive and negative connotations are linked to the individual choices.] There are other odd auditory cues embedded in this sequence. ACAVYOS points out that the Star Child’s voice is actually a composite of three different voices: the boy’s, as well as the voices of the male and female Shepard, Mark Meer and Jennifer Hale. Meer’s voice is panned all the way to the right, and is barely audible; Hale’s panned to the left, and is somewhat easier to hear. The composite nature of the Catalyst’s voice is odd. It seems to support IT’s idea that this is an hallucination, given that according to Freud’s theory of dreams, everyone we meet while asleep is a reflection of ourselves.
Whatever else is true, the entire area where Shepard is standing is still on the bottom of the Citadel, which in a sense means that it was always there, waiting to be used, as though whatever race constructed the space station anticipated that it might be used for this purpose. In composing this essay, I’ve come across an interesting hypothesis about this situation on the Galactic Mattress. His point is too long to address here, but certain parts of his argument seem to make sense, and are certainly worth discussing at length; I shall attempt to do this in further work. On the other hand, this seems to be the one instance where Occam’s razor cuts in favor of IT.
One other interesting observation that appeared on Bioware’s Social Network, there are some interesting visual similarities between the area on the ground in London, seen just before Shepard reaches the Conduit, and this final area where she encounters the Catalyst. For instance, as Shepard descends toward the Conduit, just to her left is a wrecked Mako. In the area where Shepard meets the Catalyst, there are a series of round objects, roughly the same size as the Mako’s wheels. Similarly the assembly where Shepard makes her final choice looks a good deal like the Conduit itself. Byne has posted a series of images that make this relationship clear.
Fig. 9. Byne’s composite image. (Source: Bioware Social Network)
What’s interesting is that in psychological theory, there’s some precedent for this. Freud called this part of the dream the “day residue”—images recorded in memory over the course of the day that are then repurposed by the unconscious mind during sleep. The repetition of similar visual images (and the repetition of images from Shepard’s earlier experiences as well—i.e. the passageway leading up to the control panel) appears to be linked. Though it’s not likely that the developer was thinking of the day residue specifically in constructing this sequence, this doesn’t mean that the visual echoes in design don’t reflect something similar, and to signal to the player that something odd is happening, whether that means Shepard is indoctrinated or not.
Read Part VI
 Depending on certain choices made in game, and depending on the index of Shepard’s Effective Military Strength (EMS), not all of these options may be available. In fact, the game may “select” an ending for a player with an especially low EMS; the game bases its choice on whether Shepard chose to destroy or keep the Collector base at the end of Mass Effect 2.
 See Uninhibited and Unrepentant, “Mind=…Holy Fuck…”, http://uninhibitedandunrepentant.tumblr.com/post/19344938387/mind-holy-fuck, 5/8/2012.
 See user Byne’s post that compiles a good bit of the various observations, http://social.bioware.com/forum/1/topic/355/index/9727423/1, 5/8/2012. The thread, of which Byne’s post is the first, is now over two thousand pages long.
 V. Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, Ed. Trans. A. A. Brill, New York: Modern Library, 1994.
Spoilers for ME 3
[In part three, we looked at Shepard's arrival at the Citadel, and her final confrontation with the Illusive Man, as well as her second physical collapse, and finally her being spirited away to meet the Catalyst.]
IV The Star Child
As she gets up onto her hands and knees, Shepard sees the ghostly image of a boy walking toward her. We’ve seen the boy before, of course. He featured prominently in the opening sequence of the game, and again in Shepard’s dream sequences that divide the game into roughly three acts. Why this boy in particular? A801506 and the Galactic Mattress both suggest that using the boy for the final sequence was done mostly out of convenience, and that the developers chose to recycle the character’s “mesh” in order to save time and effort. Certainly reusing an asset already created is economical, however, why this boy (who speaks all of two lines of dialogue, in what ends up being more than thirty hours of gameplay), instead of some of the members of Shepard’s crew, some of whom have been her friend, ally, or even her lover for the better part of three games? It would have been more economical to not spend any time making a mesh for him at all. Clearly the boy is meant to mean something.
In fact, Bioware has provided something of an answer, both in promotional materials, as well as in the book The Art of Mass Effect 3, that the boy is intended to represent “all of the people that Shepard can’t save,” or as gamerd83 more succinctly puts it, “Shepard’s guilt.” While this may be true, and though The Art of Mass Effect 3 contains minor spoilers for the game, it is hardly outside the realm of possibility for the developer to be somewhat coy with regard to their exact motivations behind adding certain elements to the game.
Let’s return to that opening moment, where the boy first appears. We hear and see what we believe to be an Alliance fighter flying over the towers of an unknown city; after a moment we realize that the fighter is actually toy the child is holding in his hand as he runs in circles on a rooftop garden near one of the Alliance headquarters buildings. The camera pulls back to Shepard’s perspective, and we see her turn away from the window, smiling to herself. Before she can turn back, she’s called away to an important meeting; the reapers arrive; Shepard flees with Anderson, and after a bit of tutorial gameplay, she discovers the boy again, this time hiding in an ventilation duct, inside the room she has just entered. By this point the player has gone through so many twists and turns that it is difficult to say whether it’s still plausible that such a meeting could occur. [EDIT 5/16/2012: On a second playthrough, I made a point to look down toward the balcony where Shepard enters the room where she meets the boy. In fact, if you're lucky, you will actually see the boy run up to the door, open it, and run into the room. Read more about this: here.] This footage featured heavily in early demonstrations of the game shown at conventions, as well as in some promotional trailers, as well as in the gameplay available in the demo of the game released on 14 February 2012. Given that the boy is featured as part of the opening cinematic, and that he is linked to Shepard, first through the Commander’s subjective gaze and then through a face to face meeting, it’s clear that the boy is intended to signify something important within the game.
Shepard is unable to coax the boy out of the duct. “You can’t help me,” he tells her. In the next moment, Anderson returns, refocusing Shepard’s attention. Looking back, she sees that the child has vanished without a sound, deeper into the shaft. IT supporters point out that it’s odd that Anderson doesn’t seem to hear Shepard talking to the boy. Perhaps it’s not so strange: the city is under attack, and there’s a lot going on outside of the short conversation between the Commander and the child. Anderson, too, has already left the room—Shepard even opened the door for him. The room that he enters is partially on fire. We can, perhaps, forgive his not noticing.
What is more strange, and harder to explain, is Shepard’s silence about the boy: she neither attempts to alert Anderson to his presence in order to engage his help, nor does she seem to feel the need to mention what she saw. Shepard, in fact, says nothing—to anyone—about the boy throughout the entire course of the game. [Edit: Actually, Shepard does refer to the boy in a conversation with Garrus, shortly after meeting him on Palaven's moon.]
It’s worth pointing out one other thing that takes place during this sequence. Shepard and the boy make direct eye contact twice, first in the ventilation duct, then a few minutes later, across a much greater distance. Both times this direct eye contact is broken on hearing the characteristic reaper growl. IT suggests that this “growl” is heard each time someone being subjected to indoctrination actively rejects reaper control. Their principal evidence for this is the novel Mass Effect: Retribution, wherein Paul Grayson is subjected to various forms of indoctrination, including implantation and having “self-replicating nanites” introduced into his body. Despite these methods, Grayson is able to fight full reaper control for some time, hearing this distinctive “growl” each time he does.
Shepard and Anderson continue on through the newly made ruins of Vancouver, eventually reaching the Normandy. As Shepard says goodbye to Anderson, she spots two Alliance shuttles dropping in, disgorging a group of marines, and picking up a group of wounded civilians. The boy enters from the far right side of the frame, first as a blur, then as the framed subject of the cinematic. Again, there’s been too much action for us to say whether it’s plausible that the boy could have reached the landing pad. From Shepard’s perspective, we watch as he scrambles across landing platform, unnoticed and unaided by anyone. Instead of running straight toward the shuttle, though, he instead looks up, directly at Shepard. It isn’t clear how far apart the two are at this moment, though moments before we saw the Normandy begin to pull away from the rubble in the harbor where Shepard climbed aboard. Despite what must be a distance of several hundred meters, and likely much more than that, Shepard and the boy lock eyes, then the boy hears the roar of a massive reaper as it draws closer to the landing pad. He scrambles into the shuttle, hauling himself up over the step, ignored by both the Alliance marines guarding the landing zone and civilians helping each other aboard. The door of the shuttle closes, it takes off, and the reaper, now quite close, takes aim and promptly shoots the craft down. IT supporters point to this sequence in particular as proof that the boy is not real. Though it’s true that under dire circumstances people often behave in incredibly selfish and uncharacteristic ways, it seems unlikely that no one would even reach out to help pull the boy on board the shuttle. And so it seems that perhaps the boy is, at the very least, more a metaphorical character than a physical being.
Read Part V
 Cf. gamerd83, “ME3 Indoctrination Theory Loopholes (1 of 3),” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U37rP_E78UA&feature=related.
 Mass Effect storyline, via Mass Effect Wiki, http://masseffect.wikia.com/wiki/Storyline_III#Mass_Effect:_Retribution, 4/16/2012.
 See ACAVYOS.
 Cf. guidemesilly, “Mass Effect 3 Ending Explained (1/3): The Beginning Analysis for Indoctrination Theory”, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8vra2WF2oY. From the video it is actually clear that the boy must have crossed directly in front of at least one of the Marines dismounting from the shuttle. This Marine takes no notice of the boy, which again seems somewhat odd.
Spoiler warnings for ME 3.
[In parts one and two of this multipart article, we looked at the basic claims of IT, as well as examining some of the ideas advanced by the debunkers. For a refresher, you can find part one, and part two by clicking through the links.]
III The Straight and Narrow
On reaching the Citadel, Shepard’s vision is no longer blurred. She finds herself in an area that is choked with dead human bodies, much the same as the ground leading up to the Conduit in London. The remains found here are more distinct, something that Shepard points out, with individual limbs and even a few faces visible. There is a single keeper in this area that both ignores Shepard and that also can’t be killed if fired upon. Contacting Anderson, Shepard learns that he came up shortly after she did, but ended up in a different place. IT states that this is impossible, as the game offers only one path for Shepard to reach the control panel that is her ultimate goal. They also note that the Illusive Man (the former Jack Harper) later appears from behind Shepard, meaning that he also came from this area. IT proponents point to this as proof that this is all a hallucination. This may be true, but none of it actually counts as proof. And, in any case, the Illusive Man’s mysterious appearance behind Shepard is same kind of surprise move often seen in action movies. It’s not so much an oversight as it is a commonplace.
Much more interesting is what Shepard sees along the way. As numerous observers have pointed out, this version of the Citadel contains design elements seen elsewhere in the Mass Effect series. The first room is reminiscent of the Collector ship from Mass Effect 2, though the lighting and the structure of the room suggest various locations on Omega, most notably Afterlife. The next space Shepard enters is a large open area that curves away from her both to the left and to the right. Sparks of electricity shoot through the air. The only path is forward, down a ramp, and across a bridge, which is bordered on either side by a series of panels that slide against one another. Many of these elements—the bridge, the lightning, the sliding panels—are borrowed from a downloadable episode for Mass Effect 2, “Lair of the Shadow Broker,” and all seem to be clearly meant to reference the Shadow Broker’s ship. Reaching the other side of the ramp, there are two structures that look like antennae or railings that again reference both the lightning rods found on the Shadow Broker’s ship, as well as the defense turrets found on the exterior of the Citadel during the final battle of the first Mass Effect. Each of these “railings” is stamped with a logo. On the left hand side this reads “1M1”, while on the right, these characters are reversed (which is only somewhat noticeable; the reversed “1M1″ appears in the area where Shepard meets the Catalyst, too). Ascending the other side of the ramp, and looking up, Shepard appears to be entering a space not unlike that from the original Mass Effect, when she storms the Council Chambers to fight Saren her climactic battle against Saren. It’s hard to say what all these design choices mean specifically. They don’t necessarily prove or disprove either IT, or those who would debunk the theory. For instance, the final area that Shepard enters is circular. A long catwalk joins to a circular platform. Perhaps instead of assuming there is only one entrance, one could argue that it is just as likely the room could have rotated a few degrees to the right or left to allow Anderson in before Shepard reached it. Anderson even says, “Whoa, one of the walls just shifted,” a few moments before Shepard finds him, standing over the control panel. All the same, when taken as a whole these elements do seem to be pointing somewhere, though making a more specific statement may prove difficult. The following figures illustrate some of the references to earlier Mass Effect games, and other locations that Shepard has visited.
Fig. 5. Shepard, seen here in the area where she first enters the Citadel. Visual references point most specifically to the Collector Ship, as well as Afterlife on Omega. Notes and other additions added by original poster. (Source: Imgur.com)
Fig. 6. An image from the next area Shepard enters, which seems to reference the Shadow Broker’s ship. (Source: Imgur.com)
Fig. 7. The ramp leading to the final area. Note the lettering “1M1” on the railing. The railing itself resembles the lightning masts on the Shadow Broker’s ship as well as—as the original poster points out—the forward part of the Normandy. (Source: Imgur.com)
Fig. 8. The area where the final confrontation with the Illusive Man takes place. The background is taken from the final sequence of the original Mass Effect. The original poster also points to a certain similarity to Cronos station. (Source: Imgur.com)
One thing that bears mentioning is these are some of the final moments where Shepard is actually a controllable character. Once Shepard emerges onto the platform behind Anderson, the action—aside from the brief moment where she is able to choose the red, blue or green options, is essentially one long cinematic sequence, where Shepard’s and the player’s gaze have been predetermined. We’re used to this kind of thing, of course. Players see it in games all the time, and multiple sources, among them, the writer who operates the site The Galactic Pillow, note that as recently as last November, Bioware was working on a mechanic that would have left Shepard more controllable by the player, before ultimately deciding to abandon it in favor of the ending we have now.
Let’s assume for a moment that losing control of Shepard means nothing in particular, and that it is merely a manifestation of Bioware’s inability to make a bit of gameplay work the way they wanted it to. Consider that, in a sense, Shepard has been out of our control since well before she left the ground in London. Once she exits the truck to make the rush to the Conduit, her path is essentially linear. After her arrival on the Citadel, the same holds true. There’s only one way to move. This may not be an indication of indoctrination, but the linearity of these final moments is interesting. There is only one path: forward, on toward your destiny.
The sequence that follows Shepard’s arrival at the control panel involves the final confrontation with the Illusive Man. His entry is marked by tendrils of black “smoke” encroaching on all sides of the screen, and these seem to both advance and retreat somewhat in sync with the level of domination he is exerting over Shepard. Both IT proponents and detractors make much of this scene. It does, after all, represent the final struggle between indoctrination and free will, whether or not the entire scene plays out in the physical world or in Shepard’s mind. There’s little here to convince us to accept one particular reading of the scene over the other, though it is worth noting that this scene in particular is where IT proponents place too much meaning, while the detractors tend to see things too literally.
What’s important in this scene is that the Illusive Man, whether physically present or a figment of Shepard’s imagination, is capable of taking control of her body, of forcing her to point her weapon at Anderson, and then pull the trigger. After a brief argument with the Illusive Man, one that will no doubt remind most players of the final battle with Saren in Mass Effect, Shepard either convinces the Illusive Man to commit suicide, or kills him herself, thus clearing the final hurdle to firing the Crucible. Shepard steps forward, touches the controls, and the Citadel arms begin opening.
She then takes a moment to rest beside the mortally wounded Anderson, as they talk, and as Anderson slowly dies, Shepard realizes that she, too, is bleeding from a wound located in the lower left part of her abdomen (remember that earlier she was shot in her right shoulder, too). Much discussion surrounds the exact cause and placement of this injury. IT holds that it is in the same location as Anderson’s, and point to the sequence where Shepard is forced to shoot her former commander. A801506 has shown that this observation isn’t correct: the bullet seems to strike Anderson in the lower right side of his body. Thus Anderson isn’t so much a “double” of Shepards conscience, as he is a mirror image of her. And so, if as IT would have us believe, Anderson is merely a “reflection” of a portion of Shepard’s mind, it would follow that they should have wounds on opposite sides of their body. As seen earlier with the “1M1” appearing on the left, and its inverted image appearing on the right, placing Anderson on Shepard’s right remains in keeping with this mirror image theme.
Some suggest that the “1M1” inversion is a result of copying and pasting that particular element, then “flipping” the image to make it fit with the environment. This explanation certainly makes sense, though it doesn’t particularly jibe with the attention that seems to have been lavished on the design of the rest of the game. It also doesn’t take into account that numerous other environmental elements are reused elsewhere in the game, many of them bearing some kind of text or numerals, but these last two areas are the only locations in the game where mirrored characters and numerals are visible. [Edit 5/27/2012: Actually, there are a few other locations where reversed characters are visible; in particular the sequence TM 889, seen on the side of one of the radios in the opening sequence of the game, bears the characters 889 MT on the reverse side. This element is repeated at least once in another location, on a beam overhead as Shepard enters the spaceport.] (It also bears mentioning that this area has few other logos or symbols of any kind on the walls, almost as though to draw attention to what little writing there is.)
A brief conversation between Shepard and Anderson ensues, where the dying mentor and his onetime apprentice share a well-deserved moment of peace. But Anderson is fading fast. He dies like the good, brave soldier he is; and Shepard, now alone, hears Admiral Hackett’s voice coming over the radio. Hearing his voice, she begins crawling again toward the control panel only to collapse before reaching it.
How, IT proponents want to know, does Hackett know Shepard made it to the Citadel, and how can she hear him, given that her radio was probably destroyed when she was shot by Harbinger. There are two simple explanations to this, the first being that Hacket must be able to see that the Citadel is opening, and if it is, he can probably assume that Shepard is the one doing the opening. As for how she can hear him, heroes aren’t often thwarted by something as trivial as a broken walkie-talkie. Messages that arrive too late and other such breakdowns belong to the tragic mode, not the epic. As she collapses onto her hands and knees in front of the control panel, that same burst of white light envelops Shepard. A brief animation shows her body being carried “upward.” When she awakes, she is again in a new area that is, apparently on the outer hull of the Citadel. In front of her is some kind of coupling where the Citadel and the Crucible are joined together, though not touching. She is, it appears, no longer bleeding from her wounds.
Read Part IV
 Any bullets fired at the keeper trigger no response, and do not appear to actually be “hitting” anything. This in and of itself may not be significant, however, given that often enough this is how games tell the player “you can’t interact with this object.”
 Though, again, it’s hard to say what that might mean. He might be referring to the sliding panels seen earlier, or something else entirely.
 It’s worth noting that the outcome of the final conversation with the Illusive Man depends a good deal on factors well beyond the scope of this particular scene. In most instances Shepard will be forced to kill the Illusive Man.
 Cf. Kate Cox, “Why Mass Effect’s Ending Doesn’t Need Chaniging,” Kotaku.com, http://kotaku.com/5892074/why-mass-effect-3s-ending-doesnt-need-changing-spoilers, 4/19/2012.
 There’s been some debate as to which direction the platform carrying Shepard is actually moving. Study of the scene where the Crucible joins to the Citadel seems to point to her being on the reverse side of the circular structure that forms the base of the Presidium tower. (This means that she was moving away from the main part of the Citadel; for ease of description, let’s call that direction “down”.) As for her being on the exterior part of the hull, how is she able to breathe? That isn’t entirely clear. Either it’s a hallucination, or there’s a force field that traps in an atmosphere. There’s not sufficient evidence to prove either explanation.
I’ve been working on an essay about Indoctrination Theory, which has come up in relation to the ending of Mass Effect 3. It’s rather long, and I’m going to have to post it in sections. But take heart: there will be pictures.
Also, massive spoiler warnings for those who haven’t finished.
Now it’s up. You can read the various parts:
Image source: Forbes.com